MLM – Chapter 3

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The man faded in and out of consciousness, catching glimpses of the mountains of garbage passing by, and every once in a while, a flash of a young boy’s face filled with child-like concern. He had the vague impression that he was floating and drifting along with the warm breeze. Flashes of images and scenes that he didn’t recognize flitted through his consciousness.
He woke up in a feverish state, sitting up with a shout, frightening the small brown haired boy sitting next to him. The man looked around wildly, taking in his surroundings, seeing the inside of a dirty makeshift hut, but nothing he saw looked familiar.
He tried to get to his feet, but the weakened man was overcome with dizziness. He fell back onto the homemade cot that he was lying on, only to arch his back in agony as an intense burning sensation swept across his back. He opened his cracked throat, and a guttural cry of pain erupted from his throat.
The small boy tried to calm him, but his efforts to touch the tormented man only made the searing pain worse.
“It probably hurts like hell, but hold on for Sharp to get back.” The boy said. “Can’t do nothing till he gets here.”
At his words, the man looked at him with a crazed look of agony, causing the boy to take a step back fearfully, but then the man closed his eyes and mouth, breathing heavily out of his nose, trying to control the pain wracking his body. The less he moved, the less it hurt.
Past the sound of his heavy breathing, the man heard the boy sat down again next to him.
“Yah, you’ll be OK. Never seen nobody sunburn as fast as you do, but don’t worry. We’re gonna borrow the fixer from old man Leonard. Sharp’ll be back any second.”
There was silence, only the sound of the man’s labored breathing and the occasional faint creaking of the metal stool that the boy sat as he fidgeted.
Finally, apparently unable to contain himself, the child blurted out with a question. “Who are you?”
Kid, wouldn’t I like to know, the man thought to himself. But I guess I do know. Lasko, T. I’m T. Lasko. I wonder what the T stands for.
“Can you talk?” the boy ventured tentatively after the man didn’t respond to his question. “’cause I know some people can’t talk. They don’t got any tongues. But I seen yours…”
“I…. can… talk.” The man managed to croak out.
The boy scooted closer to the man. “Droolers, you sound pretty bad. Want some water?” And before the man could say anything, the kid hurried off to the far side of the hut, and the man heard the sound of rummaging.
The man cracked open one eye, trying to ignore the pain that flashed across his face. Damn, even my eyelids are sunburned. He took a quick peek at his surroundings.
The hut looked like it was made with scrap from the trash heaps. The walls were made of thin metal sheeting crudely welded together, and long poles held up a tattered fabric with the yellow sunlight flickering in here and there. The hut itself was filled with all kinds of incomprehensible junk.
The first object that he immediately recognized was a makeshift bed, which consisted of a large metal box cushioned by rags serving as a mattress. His own cot was similar. There was also a sole metal stool, which the young boy had just been sitting on.
The young boy turned around with a bowl of water, catching the man looking around. A proud smile lit up under his long brown hair.
“I guess it’s not as nice as the holdings, but we built it ourselves. Sharp did most of the work, but I helped a lot.” The thin boy walked over carefully, concentrating on not spilling the water, but only half succeeding.
As he drew closer the man saw that the kid had filled it all the way to the very brim, something that he probably would have laughed at if he hadn’t been wracked with continual pain and weakness. The boy brought the metal bowl to the man’s lips, and spilling a small portion, tried to tilt it sideways into the man’s mouth, pouring a good amount straight into the man’s face, causing him to sputter, but also sending temporary cooling relief over his burns.
“Sorry,” the boy said sheepishly, and aiming carefully, poured a small trickle of water directly into the man’s open mouth from above. The water was delicious, the coolness refreshing his dry cracked throat as he swallowed desperately. After he was done gulping down the last of the water, the man gasped in relief.
“Where… am I?” he said, the words coming out a little bit easier.
“We’re in the dumping fields.” The boy said cheerfully. “f you walk about two hours east, you can get to the gate, if you walk fast.”
“…Gate?” Lasko didn’t know what those were, and his confusion showed on his face.
The boy blinked. “Gate 41N87W. That’s the closest one.”
The man closed his eyes again. It was as he had feared. The information wasn’t familiar at all.
Just then a shadow flickered over his face, accompanied by footsteps from outside. The man opened his eyes again to see a silhouette appear in the door of the hut. The black haired boy stood there, breathing heavily.
“I got it, I got the fixer.” He waved something in his hand up in the air. “Can you believe that that old rat wanted five units for borrowing this?”
“That old rat crapper!” the brown haired boy shouted gleefully.
The black hair kid scoffed, and came to the bedside. “How’s he… doing?” he asked between short breaths.
The younger boy smiled broadly. “He woke up.”
The older boy gave the younger boy’s head a small push. “I can see that, you dumb drooler! I mean, did he say anything?”
The boy scratched his head where he was pushed. “Not much, Sharp, geez. He just asked where we were.”
Sharp gave the man a piercing glare. “You can talk,” he said in a statement. The man nodded slowly. “OK, now listen to me. Before me ‘n Tunnel here fix you up, we gotta be sure that you ain’t gonna do nothing. No stealing, no hurting, no telling. You got that?”
The man spent a couple seconds thinking about the terms, before nodding his head. He didn’t know what no telling meant, but he didn’t think too hard and resolved to be compliant, whatever it was. His brain was starting to feel fuzzy again. “OK.” His voice cracked.
“Alright, let’s start her up!” The boy held up the device in his hand and pressed on it with his thumb. There was a hum, and a light began to shine from the front of the device, both quickly increasing in intensity.
“It’s charged already?” Tunnel asked loudly over the hum. Sharp gave a wry grin. “I didn’t pay five units for nothing.”
The man looked at the strange device curiously. What was this thing? This was supposed to aid the healing process? It looked kind of like an air freshener, the plug-in kind. It even had a plug, except instead of a standard two rectangular prongs, these were longer and seemed rather sharp…
Wait a second. Don’t tell me. The man opened his mouth, to immediately delay the treatment, but it was too late.
With a swift movement, Sharp stabbed the device right into the man’s chest.
A sharp shooting pain flashed in his chest, and the man gasped, completely taken off-guard by the child’s brutality. He looked down in shock at the glowing and humming device sticking out of his chest, and he slowly clasped it with his hand, attempting to pull it out. The boy’s face changed.
“What are you doing, you’re supposed to leave it in.” The boy knocked his hand away, and leaned on the device with both of his dirty hands.
Suddenly the device stopped humming and the glowing light faded. The man thought for a second that it was over. Then a wave of wracking pain traveled over his body, starting outward from the chest region. The man tried to scream, but was only able to force out a high pitched squeal; his lungs wouldn’t even allow him to draw in a full breath. His body and limbs convulsed involuntarily as a series of painful jolts wracked the man.
The young boy quickly jerked the device out of the man’s chest, but the pain continued, spreading now from his limbs to his skin. It seemed as if his sunburn had gotten ten-times worse, burning so hot that through the white, blinding pain man thought that he was actually on fire.
After what seemed to be a lifetime, the pain finally began to lessen, and the man, gritting his teeth, let out groans as he relaxed his tense muscles. Disappearing in the same order it came, his chest was the first to regain normalcy, followed by his limbs and then at last his skin, until finally all that was left of the crippling pain was a slight tingling, as if his muscles had just fallen asleep.
Breathing heavily, the man lay on the cot, soaked in sweat, looking blankly up at the ceiling. Next to him, Sharp was nonchalantly cleaning blood off of the device, while Tunnel watched the man with big eyes.
“You must have been hurt pretty bad,” the small boy said. “I’ve never seen the fixer sting nobody that bad before.”
The man said nothing, his brain still recovering from the crippling agony that he had just felt.
“Do you think he needs another shot?” Sharp raised the device in his hand again.
The man instantly leapt up from the cot, back against the metal hut wall, staring at Sharp with a fearful look.
Sharp laughed evilly, and returned to cleaning off the device, with a mischievous look on his face. “He seems alright.”
Tunnel giggled, and then looked at the man with some more concern. “How do you feel?”
The man, looking angrily at Sharp, took a couple moments to process Tunnel’s question. “Huh?” The pain was completely gone. Looking at the skin on his arm, the red, raw surface had been replaced with tan, healthy-looking layer of skin. The weakness in his body was gone, and even the soreness and stinging from his torn up feet had completely disappeared.
“How… how can this…” the man could only stammer.
Both Sharp and Tunnel looked at him in confusion. “What’s wrong? Haven’t you seen a fixer before?” Tunnel asked.
“I bet they got something better in Upper,” Sharp tilted his head. “What did Leonard say this was called? …booster..?”
The man slowly climbed down from the cot and sat down on it. He reached a hand out to Sharp, gesturing for the handheld machine. The boy hesitated, then carefully handed over the cleaned device.
Upon closer examination, the man saw that the device was very worn; it seemed to have been painted once, but the colors were now faded or completely eroded, revealing the grey metal underneath. It did indeed have the look of a plug-in air freshener; there was some kind of light on the front, and in a small jar embedded in the front the man could see a transparent liquid swishing around. But instead of fan vents, there were hand grips. The man caught a glimpse of some faint red lettering, and turned it on its side for a better look.
John…& Johnson Emergency Regenerative Booster
Johnson & Johnson. The man didn’t know whether to laugh or be amazed. He handed the device back to Sharp. All of his anger towards the young boy had completely faded.
“Thank you.” The words now flowed smoothly off the man’s tongue. Even his ragged throat had been healed.
Both of the young boys shyly smiled, looking away, suddenly not being able to meet the man’s sincere gaze. They clearly weren’t used to such blatant gratitude.
“No problem. Just forget about it.” Tunnel said generously. Slap.
“You crazy?” Sharp lightly rebuked the young kid, who was rubbing the back of his head where Sharp had smacked him. “We spent a whole day and ten units taking care of this guy. He better be paying us back somehow.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot.” Tunnel said sheepishly. A smile was still on both of their faces.
“Of course.” The man got up from where he was sitting. “Anything I can do-. ” Suddenly a mountain of fatigue came crashing down on him. “Whoa.” The man sat down. All of a sudden the man couldn’t keep his eyes open.
“Yeah, you’d better get some sleep. The fixer sometimes makes people pretty tired.” Sharp said knowingly. He pushed the man down on the cot. “Go ahead, we’ll talk later.”
The man no sooner laid his head down when darkness took over his mind. Then suddenly he was drawn back to wakefulness by a rigorous shaking.
“Wait a second.” The man opened his eyes to see Tunnel looking at him eagerly. “His name’s Sharp and mine’s Tunnel. What’s your name?” the boy asked.
Name? The man closed his eyes. What was my name again?
The man murmured his name, just before drifting off into the throes of sound sleep.